Bosnia: the nation left behind

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Fifteen years after the end of the Bosnian war, a country lives with brutal memories

Sarajevo's Jezero paediatric hospital officially reopened late last month. It should have been a joyful moment – but as is so often the case in divided Bosnia, it was bittersweet. The hospital didn't close in 1992 for repairs because it was old; the Bosnian Serbs, then besieging the city, wrecked it at the start of the war with a well-aimed artillery shell. Six newborn infants perished in the rubble.

Many events of this kind in Bosnia leave the same kind of curdled aftertaste. Far from symbolising renewal and rebirth after an agonising war, they reawaken dark memories in a country that is yet to experience proper reconciliation.

That the anger has never gone away, and that the country still feels so haunted 15 years after the war ended is not surprising. I never visited the Jezero because it was put out of action so early in the war. But as The Independent correspondent in Sarajevo during the 1992-5 war, my colleagues and I spent plenty of evenings in other hospitals, pacing dark corridors because the besiegers had cut off the power. With the BBC's Allan Little, I visited Irma Hadzimuratovic, 5, in the Kosevo hospital, where she lay crippled by shrapnel and suffering from meningitis. Allan's determination to bring her plight to Britain's attention nudged John Major's government into having her airlifted to London. It was too late and she died anyway – one of about 1,500 children killed in the siege.

The tender age of so many victims of the conflict helps explain why memories of the war remain raw and alive in Bosnia. Those children's parents, then in their twenties and thirties, are only middle-aged now. The country is full of men and women widowed in their twenties and still only in their forties.

That isn't the only reason why Bosnia hasn't "moved on" since 1995, much to the shame of its friends and indeed, of many of its own citizens. Elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia, the wars of the 1990s ended on a decisive note. In Croatia and Kosovo, the Serbs lost hands down and when their police and soldiers withdrew, most of the Serbian population fled with them.

There was no decisive finale in Bosnia. Instead, the Americans imposed a kind of armistice in the summer of 1995, which stopped the fighting simply by freezing the various armies where they stood. The Bosnian Serbs had to abandon Sarajevo. But under the terms of the Dayton peace deal they retained half of the country while the Muslims and Croats were squeezed into the rest.

Most shockingly, the town of Srebrenica, site of the July 1995 massacre of 7,000 Muslims – and an overwhelmingly Muslim town before almost all its male inhabitants were murdered – was included in the lands awarded to the Serbs. After 1995, the world handed over guilt money for reconstruction, dragged a token number of war criminals to The Hague to trial and told everyone else it was time to start getting along. There was no Truth Commission. There haven't even been any unambiguous apologies. Survivors groups like the Mothers of Srebrenica make their annual pilgrimage to the town where their husbands, sons and brothers were killed knowing that almost all the killers got off scot free and in some cases are still walking round the town.

No wonder a country put together in such a clumsy fashion has never prospered and remains a limb badly set. Since 1995, a large proportion of the country's brightest and best have left. For those who remain there is not all that much to do. Except tend graves, of course. There are plenty of those.

Marcus Tanner was Balkan correspondent for 'The Independent'

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect